Book Review

Stardust by Neil Gaiman


Title: Stardust
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publication Info: Harper Perennial 2006
ISBN: 0061142026
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

The setting:  The town of Wall, which lies hard by the boundary of Faerie, and every nine years, the site of a Faerie Market.

Also, assorted locations in Faerie.

Our Intrepid Hero: Tristran Thorn, a sweet but awkward and somewhat gormless young man of mysterious lineage.

Our Intrepid Heroine: Yvaine, a rather no-nonsense fallen star.

Summarize the plot in one unwieldy run-on sentence that abuses commas and semi-colons with merry abandon: Clueless young man deep in the throes of an infatuation makes a rash promise to retrieve a fallen star for his light o’ love and leaves the known world for the uncharted, unpredictable wildness of Faerie, where he encounters (among other things) a hairy little man(ish sort of creature), two witches, a talking tree, several ghosts (whom he never sees), a prince, a fallen star, assorted inhabitants of Faerie and a partridge in a pear tree (OK, I might be lying about the last); uncovers a hidden talent or two; finds what he thinks he’s looking for; discovers he’s braver and capable of much more than he ever thought possible; loses a great deal of his awkwardness and gains +10 Gormfulness; and ultimately discovers that his heart’s desire isn’t quite what he thought it was.

Also, he learns the truth about his heritage.

CRAP! That was more than one sentence. I lose.

So, what did you think? Oh my Jesus. I love this book like…words fail me. Like bike nuts loves fixies. Like a pirate loves booty. Like hipsters love vinyl and irony. Like emo kids love the taste of bitter, bitter tears.

Dude, aren’t you a little late on the Gaiman-love bandwagon? Well, kind of, but kind of not. See, I bought this book when it first came out. I was introduced to Gaiman via Good Omens, and The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish cemented my desire to glom his backlist, so I went ahead and bought all his published novels. Which were, at the time, Stardust and Neverwhere.

Uh huh. And it took you HOW long to get around to reading this? Shut up.

…OK, about nine years. It’s been so long, the edition I have is completely out of print and I have to link to the froofy trade paperback edition on Amazon because that’s what’s available right now. What’s wrong with me? Seriously. *cries*

Your self-flagellation tires me. Y’know, for a construct I ripped off from mightygodking’s Livejournal movie reviews, you’re kind of a…

Yeah yeah yeah. Whatevs. What did you like best? The Faerie universe Gaiman creates. The dude really, really knows how to build a world that’s not only convincing, but that makes me actively wish that the world actually exists. This hasn’t happened to me in a very, very long time, and it has to do with Gaiman’s uncanny ability to tap into the bits of my brain that read with the wide-eyed wonder and credulity of a child. In the past several years, I’ve read books that were better-written than Stardust—ones that touched me more, that made me think harder, that moved me to take action in ways that Stardust never can—but none have made me ache with the wish that the world between their pages was real; none of them made me wonder that if I closed my eyes and walked across the field full of frogs behind my apartment on a night with a full moon, I might open my eyes to find a girl with cat’s-ears and purple eyes, a fine silver chain snaking from her ankle and across the grass.

In fact, just about the only complaint I have about the story is that I want more of it. Gaiman wantonly strews seeds of potential short stories—entire novels, actually—throughout the book. Where did the Lilim come from? How are they ended? And all those lovely, exciting adventures that Tristran and Yvaine go on while making their way back to Wall and the market, and before they return to You-Know-Where at the end so they could become You-Know-What—I want to read about those, too, dammit, instead of having them summarized in short paragraphs. They’re perfectly lovely paragraphs, and they did their job in the usual fairy tale-ish way, but gah I want more more more dagnabbit when’s he going to write another book set in this world and eeeeeeeeeeeeee.

You’re alarmingly squeaky when you gush. Well, shit yeah. I also get squeaky when I’m indignant. I’m short. I’m high-pitched. Squeaky is kind of the default tone you get with me.

And what did you think of the ending? It was perfect. I loved its slight bittersweetness, and I liked that Gaiman didn’t cop out and wrap everything up with too neat a bow.

This is a stupid question, but I’m going to ask it anyway: So, I guess you highly recommend this book? As my friend Katie would say: Hell ass tits goddamn motherfucking YES. In fact, if you’re an even bigger loser than I am and haven’t read this book yet, and if you’re in any way a fan of fairy tales—not those watered-down namby-pamby ripoffs of the Brothers Grimm you see nowadays, but a fairy tale with teeth, sharp sharp teeth—then I highly recommend that you buy, borrow or steal a copy of this book and read it. Read it now.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Alandra says:

    Excellent book! I read it when it came out, but now I might have to go back and re-read it. Be sure to also read Neverwhere if it’s still on your TBR pile.

  2. 2
    Marianne McA says:

    I think it’s the only book of his I haven’t yet read, and I had been vaguely thinking I must read it before the film comes out.

    Glad to know it’s so good.

  3. 3
    Meljean says:

    I LOVE this book. It’s my favorite of all of his—although I think some of his other work is better, this one just hits me in all of the right places.

  4. 4
    Raina_Dayz says:

    When I first read this one, I had just read American Gods, and it was a terrible disappointment to me. I liked it, but I wasn’t by any means bowled over. I might go reread it again.  Of course I may have just been sorry there wasn’t a huge gorgeous picture of him on the back cover.

  5. 5
    Kaite says:

    I’ve had this one on my TBR pile for a very long time, too. I got so upset with American Gods (actually, probably more like ‘bored’ instead of “upset”) and Coraline scarred me for life which is why it’s still on the TBR shelf. Sigh, I’m going to have to dust it off, aren’t I?

  6. 6
    Carrie Lofty says:

    Like hipsters love vinyl and irony. Like emo kids love the taste of bitter, bitter tears.

    I died. Am I the only one who wants to find a cute young Emo and make out with him? Or her?

  7. 7
    Stephanie says:

    Hell ass tits goddamn motherfucking YES good? I’m sold.
    I was just wondering the other day if I should read this. Thank for convincing me Candy.

  8. 8

    My favorite Gaiman, although Neverwhere comes close.  Time for a re-read.

  9. 9
    Teddypig says:

    “I had just read American Gods, and it was a terrible disappointment to me.”

    This is why I am so cautious with “idea writers” like this. Neverwhere was absolutely right on (the idea around the book was brilliant) but I can see where this guy could go off in a direction where you would just hate it.

    I guess I will have to read this one then sounds enticing.

  10. 10
    Raina_Dayz says:

    Man I phrased that horribly.  Let me try that again.  I had just read American Gods, and I loved it!  Then I read Stardust, and I liked it, but it didn’t even come close to the same impact AG had on me.  But your idea is still right, he’s a guy who is gonna go where he wants, and reading the book he wrote before the one you’re reading isn’t going to give you a clue if you’re gonna like the new one.  I love that though, never know what you’re going to get out of him, but you can be sure that even if it’s not totally your cup of tea, it will at least be GOOD.

  11. 11
    Walt says:

    I’m sure the movie will perfectly capture every nuance of the written word, so I’ll just wait until that comes out—and then maybe hold off going to the theater and just wait for the DVD.

  12. 12
    Leti M says:

    It truly is a magical book.

    Candy, did you get just a text edition or one that was illustrated by Charles Vess?

    I have the illustrated one and the drawings complement the writing so much.

    I have read most of his backlist and he jumps around from idea to idea. Also, check out his blog, it rocks.

  13. 13
    Teddypig says:

    I put William Gibson in the same league, In fact I love them because of the “idea”. But… I hate them if the “idea” does not hit me as all that.

    I must say though, these are the guys that hold up over time.

  14. 14
    idealcamel says:

    Thanks for the recommendation – I love, love, love, love, love Neil Gaiman and you’ve just reminded me that I need to read more.

    Having said that – if you feel like being harrowed to within an inch of your life by a fairytale. Robin McKinley. Deerskin. Made me sob out loud on my morning commute. People looked at me oddly, but it was worth it.

  15. 15
    MeggieMacGroovie says:

    Leti M is right.

    Hit ebay and find the orginal version with the art by Charles Vess. It ads SOOO much to the story. When Gaiman works with an artist like Vess and Dave McKean, he just knows they are going to fill in parts of his idea’s for him, so he runs with things, and they play out the rest.

    The story he won the World Fantasy award for, was a Sandman one-off he did with Vess. If you like Gaiman, you must read the Sandman graphic novels. Brilliant, just brilliant. (his win, so ticked off many of the other writers, that after he won the award, they changed the rules so comics could no longer be nominated. Bah! Sore losers, the lot of them!)

    If you like the Vess art work, then slip over and get the YA books he does with Charles de Lint. More of the same magical stories, with Vess’s lovely art. Its a series about 7 mysterious sisters.

    I am a Gaiman fan, and often read his blog as well (his LJ too), good stuff on there, and he writes often, so its worth checking out.

  16. 16
    Kerry Allen says:

    I will no longer accept a book recommendation less enthusiastic than “Hell ass tits goddamn motherfucking YES.”

    I suggest a new grading system…

  17. 17
    snarkhunter says:

    Oh, yay!

    Stardust was the first Gaiman I read, and while it doesn’t have the sucker-punch-to-the-gut intensity of American Gods, the ROTFLMAO of Good Omens, the creepy unheimlich quality of Coraline, or the…whatever-it-is that makes me love, adore, and worship Neverwhere, it has wonder in spades—and wonder is a damned hard thing to find in books any more.

    I’m so happy to see it get some love. I think it’s probably the most undervalued Gaiman novel, and that’s totally unjust.

  18. 18
    Ann Aguirre says:

    I’m totally seeing the movie. The book was wonderful, and I saw a trailer for the film when I went to see Pirates 3. It looks lovely.

  19. 19
    fiveandfour says:

    I had just read American Gods, and I loved it!  Then I read Stardust, and I liked it, but it didn’t even come close to the same impact AG had on me.

    I did the same thing and felt exactly the same way, RainaDayz.  I wasn’t sure if that was because of the fact that I have a “thing” about mythology which made American Gods the literary version of finding *just* the right spot on a dog to make it uncontrollably thump a back leg in ecstasy, or if I would’ve had the same relative rankings of each story regardless of the order or timing for which I’d read them.  Now that some time has passed and I’ve exposed myself to some of Gaiman’s other works, I think I’d rank the books with American Gods as far and away favorite and Good Omens as next best.  Of course, I say this with Neverwhere still hanging out on my TBR stack – where it’s been for an embarrassingly long amount of time – and a whole host of other things still unread.

    To close, I’ll just add that Gaiman seems like a heckuva nice guy which means, right or wrong, I have positive feelings about him and maybe would pass those positive feelings along to his work even if it wasn’t my favorite.  He was soooo kind to my daughter when she asked a question about Coraline at a signing while he was touring for Anansi Boys, so the mom in me gives him the thumbs up.

  20. 20
    Danielle says:

    Since you approved of Stardust, Candy, I think you’ll like Neverwhere too. Richard is another gormless hero who develops gorm but I love, love, LOVE the setting. When I visit London I’ll be roaming around hoping to find a door into Underground, all right.

  21. 21
    Candy says:

    Meljean nailed how I feel: Gaiman has written better books, but Stardust is still, thus far, my favorite (haven’t read either American Gods or Anansi Boys, however). Sometimes, you don’t end up falling in love with smartest and prettiest in all the land; you just fall in love with the one who makes you feel really, really good. Also, snarkhunter got it right: Stardust is full of wonder, and I didn’t even know it was missing from my fictional world until I read it, and then I remembered why I love The Jungle Book and The Chronicles of Narnia so much.

    Lovelysalome: Oh, man. Dude. Portland is lousy with cute emo types and really, really hot hipster boys. Would that I have the time and energy to make out with them all.

    Leti: No, I don’t have the illustrated edition. They’re releasing an oversized hardcover edition of that version in a month or so, and I’m definitely getting that. And yes, I read his blog regularly. He’s so charming, isn’t he?

    Meggie: I just received Absolute Sandman Volume I in the mail on Wednesday. The giddiness, it abounds.

    fiveandfour: How can you NOT adore a man who makes a video of himself being a bat-trainer, in a post tagged “lemon-scented sticky bats”? I liked Gaiman’s work before I started reading his blog and subsequently developed a crush the size of Oprah’s bank account, but finding out that he seems like an genuinely nice guy who, among other things, is prone to adopting stray animals (even animals who seem to have a distressing tendency to eat his furniture) makes me a lot more prone to pay for new copies of his work as opposed to borrowing from the library or buying used.

  22. 22

    For those of you who also really enjoyed “Neverwhere” may I just suggest seeing the Television mini-series?  The television thing actually came before the book and is a lovely addition to Gaiman’s book.  I had to rent it at an independent video place but I did get it on DVD so I know it’s available.

  23. 23
    Raina_Dayz says:

    I have wondered the same thing as you, Fiveandfour, I have a soft spot for mythology related stuff, so I know AG hit me that way, but was never sure if maybe there wasn’t a strong dose of it being the first I read.  Either way, good stuff.

  24. 24
    DS says:

    I think Neverwhere started as the tv series and he later made it into a novel.  Although the series was released in mid 1990’s it had that low budget look that reminded me of Dr. Who in the late 70’s early 80’s where you ended up staring at the monster wondering “is that a vacuum hose and a pair of latex gloves?”

  25. 25
    desertwillow says:

    I have loved everything I have read by Neil Gaiman. Anansi Boys, American Gods (which impressed the hell out of me), Neverwhere – the book and the TV series that I got from Netflix, and Good Omens. I’ll get Stardust soon and read that. I hang out at his web page occassionally. He is a sweetheart and a great writer. Sighhhh….

  26. 26
    bettie says:

    I :heart: this book.  OK, I like most things Gaiman, but this book and Coraline are tops.  Like maybe I :heart: Stardust and Coraline, but just :kidney: or :portion of my liver: the rest.

  27. 27
    Emily says:

    So I’m 2/3 through American Gods and it’s alright. It makes the mediocre mythology buff in me grin, but I feel like I’m still missing something, or that I’m not getting what I ought to out of it.

    It was highly recommended to my by a friend, who is a much smarter boy-bitch than me, who often will ramble into realms of philosophy I don’t understand and lend me his CDs that don’t quite sound like music usually does and I just smile and nod along to preserve the illusion that I totally get it.

    Okay, so I don’t get it. I want to get it. I’m trying to get it.

    …I still don’t get it.

    I’m so disappointed in myself I could just rest my forehead on the floor and sigh aloud for five minutes.


  28. 28
    Candy says:

    OK, Emily, the music geek in me has to ask: which not-quite-music CDs did your friend try to push on you? Squarepusher? Autechre? Xiu Xiu? Someone else?

    Also, sometimes you just don’t get why everyone thinks something is The Shit. I don’t get Harry Potter, for example. I really, really don’t. But millions of people obviously do.

  29. 29
    Ishie says:

    Ooh!  Fangirl gush!!

    I haven’t read Stardust yet because I lost it in all the moving, but I adore this man and virtually everything he does.

    I found him through Good Omens thanks to already being an avid Terry Pratchett fan, which is probably still my favorite, not including the Sandman books which are a whole other sheesh, realm… Keep reading after Nightmares and Dreamscapes though; the second one is less convoluted.

    Adored Neverwhere and American Gods… need to reread Coraline.  It’s been a while.

    Am I the only one who has read Anansi Boys though?  I liked it a lot, though it had a more Christopher Moore vibe than his other books.

    My antispam word is “husband”.  Does my love for Neil Gaiman burn so brightly I can appoint him as husband material or will I be left blowing in the “White Wind”?

  30. 30
    quizzabella says:

    Yay for the wonderful Mr Gaiman getting some love.  I adored “Stardust” and can’t wait for the film.  If you liked “American Gods” then look out for “Fragile Things” a collection of weird and wonderful short stories – there’s a rather nice little novella involving Shadow at the end.

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